The use of airbrushing has been an on-going worldwide issue within the fashion industry for a number of years. Models as well as celebrities appearing in advertisements and photo-shoots are continually being retouched to either enhance certain attributes, or remove any imperfections. The results are a perfect image of the subject who has been photographed. On one hand, many in the industry deem airbrushing a legitimate tool, as it can aid in creating a sense of fantasy in advertisements that are not trying displaying reality in the first place. On the flip side, others argue that over use of airbrushing has resulted in women in our society being held to an impossible standard of beauty and youthfulness. In recent months the heavy use of airbrushing has become increasingly controversial and many have begun to speak out against the issue, with more celebrities refusing to have their images artificially enhanced.
For many in the fashion and media industry, airbrushing is a common everyday occurrence. Some of the subjects may even enjoy the benefits of airbrushing, enabling them to look perfect without having to actually be perfect. As well, many fashion photographers intend their work to be viewed as creative and as a escape from reality. Therefore the images presented aim to convey an artistic vision, and not a replica of real life. It is no wonder these images give a false impression; this is the very intention, especially when a story is being told through fashion. Fashion is a creative industry, meant to be glamorous, exotic and excite the mind, and the photographs should be expected portray that image. Fashion is about “dreams and illusions” , in the words of German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, as reported by the Telegraph.co.uk (October 13, 2009.) Lagerfeld’s words further highlight the fact that designers and industry professionals are attempting to create an alternate, magical and unexpected view of the world through their designs. Photographers also need to be able to present striking images to the public in order to sell the product successfully and contribute to the creation of in-demand looks. In the industry, the digital imaging software Photoshop is necessary due to the fact that “celebrities demand protection from exposure to reality” as reported by the fashion website coverawards.com in an April 21st, 2008 posting. The same post also reveals that editors “live and die by newsstand sales”, furthering the importance of perfection when presenting fashion merchandise. As well, airbrushing is considered indispensible for the task of showcasing clothing in the best possible light, such as removing wrinkles, creases or shadows. When considering these points, it is obvious why many of those in the fashion industry view airbrushing as a vital part of the business. Not only does airbrushing help to create the illusion and fantasy that is an integral part of fashion, but also has a practical use in terms of showcasing apparel in the most flattering way possible.
However there is also a negative impact to airbrushing, as demonstrated by the latest issue of Australian Women’s Weekly featuring model Sarah Murdoch. Murdoch opted to have no airbrushing whatsoever in her cover shot, in hopes of setting a precedent within the model and fashion world. According to Sarah Murdoch it “makes me mad that we can’t embrace the beauty of aging, because we’re all going to do it”, as reported by the Australian Women’s Weekly’s Lee Tulloch (November 2009). Murdoch is a perfect example of a celebrity attempting to denounce the necessity of airbrushing and end negative body image. Similarly, on another part of the globe singer and fashion designer Victoria Beckham declines photo retouching. In a recent interview and 16 page photo-spread with the United Kingdom edition of the magazine Harpers Bazaar, Beckham decries airbrushing and promotes being happy in your own skin. According to the upcoming December 2009 interview by Harpers Bazaar author Sarah Bailey, Beckham hits the gym seven days a week so she does not have to rely on airbrushing. Beckham is able to appreciate her body now, and realizes that it is important to love what you have. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar’s Sarah Bailey, Beckham revealed “I wanted to look at those pictures in 20 year’ time and say “Wow-look-after three kids-I didn’t look bad” (December 2009). Other celebrities who have also spoken out about airbrushing include such high profile celebrities as Kelly Clarkson, Kate Wineslet and Keira Knightly. In many ways it is encouraging to see females who are in the media spotlight be comfortable presenting a natural image. Their lead allows women in our society to see that they can in fact embrace their imperfections, and move away from a focus on being eternally young and perfect. As well, celebrities and models who avoid being extensively airbrushed act as role models for younger females to love themselves for who they are and not be held to impossible standards.
It is not hard to see why there is such a debate surrounding the issue of airbrushing since there are two very different arguments for and against its use. Photo retouching has both negative and positive connotations within the fashion industry, making it an extremely controversial topic. With the widespread influence of celebrities involved in the industry, it is also easy to see how this issue extends to society itself. Although there are compelling arguments on both sides of the argument, it can be readily said that it is important to keep an open mind when flipping through a fashion magazine or looking at a billboard image. As Cindy Crawford so aptly put it in the September 2009 issue of Redbook magazine, as reported by David Keeps, “I always say, even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford”.